The National Museum of Australia: Behind the Lines - The Year’s Best Cartoons

The National Museum of Australia’s annual Behind the Lines: The Year’s Best Cartoons portrays not only the best of Australia’s political wit but also attempts to reveal, highlight, understand and portray the changing face of Australian politics since the Coalitions defeat in 2007.
The National Museum of Australia: Behind the Lines - The Year’s Best Cartoons
The National Museum of Australia’s annual Behind the Lines: The Year’s Best Cartoons The National Museum of Australia’s annual Behind the Lines: The Year’s Best Cartoons exhibition began this week at the Melbourne City Museum. The exhibition showing as part of this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival runs until the 17th of May and showcases some of the best political cartoons published in Australia during 2008. Behind the Lines: The Year’s Best Cartoons portrays not only the best of Australia’s political wit but also attempts to reveal, highlight, understand and portray the changing face of Australian politics since the Coalitions defeat in 2007. The exhibition’s first chapter The Day After deals with the exit of John Howard; whose 11 years in office had provided the cartoonists with a litany of characterisations of the man; the Prime Minister who seemed to fall so conclusively from grace. Fiona Katauskas self referential I miss John Howard! pokes fun at her chosen profession, all the while paying silent homage to the man who had provided so much. Vince O’Farrel’s Janette leaves her fingernails heeds no explanation yet provides one of the exhibition’s best laughs. Then the brushes and pens turn to the entry of the fresh faced, boyish new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, a subject whose experience as a bureaucrat seemed to defy the cartoonist’s ability to read into and portray his character straight after the election. It was only as the Rudd administration grew out of its infancy were cartoonists such as Dan Boermans (Dawn of Kevin), Simon Schneider (Australian Gothic) and Ward O’Neill (Emperor Rudd) able to finally construct an image of the Prime Minister that suited their art and their comments. His image as a political saviour slowly becoming more contextualised as issues began to arise. In time the cartoonists got their ammunition. First the 20/20 forum in Canberra as described in First Dog on the Moon’s: What we did at the 20/20 summit. Then came Rudd’s commitment to the war in Afghanistan in David Pope’s desert filled Digging In, which depicts a khaki clad Rudd and a dire warning. The censorship of the Beijing Olympics was targeted in John Farmer’s clever The Great Firewall of China, a lesson in intertextuality and popular culture. The exhibitions other chapters include Climate Change and Peak Oil, utilising expressive and imaginative depictions of the future. Paul Zanetti’s: Dinosaur Cars and Alan Moir’s Peak Oil – why didn’t someone warn us?! Open themselves to dark representations of a future forewarned. More importantly it was Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations that created most of the headlines. David Rowe and his cartoon Sorry – the first brick provides the most open-ended example of the exhibition; while Matt Davidson’s Sorry Band-Aid paints a cynical view of Rudds apology as the issue received its fair share of tokenism. While Simon Letch’s Sorry v. Sorry shows the fragmentation the issue caused within the public. Sometimes it feels as though these cartoonists exist in a level of wit that seems beyond the common man, their commentary can be quick, poignant and often wonderfully doused in humour, and just for the record these cartoons are definitely worth a look for those looking for a little laugh and a lot of stimulation. Craddock Morton Director National Museum of Australia Behind the Lines: The Year's Best Cartoons 2008 was on show at the National Museum in Canberra from 2 December 2008 to 1 February 2009, before setting out on a national tour.

James Ayers

Monday 30 March, 2009

About the author

James Ayers is an Arts Hub reviewer born and bred in Melbourne. but has travelled throughout the world, drawing inspiration from the different and diverse people and cultures he has experienced. He currently holds a Bachelor of Creative Arts with a Major in Cinema Studies as well as a Post Graduate Diploma of Journalism. Without the creative world he would find himself very bored indeed.